Bolivia: massive march for national unity

July 22

At least one million people—more than two million, according to some sources—marched in El Alto, Bolivia, on July 20 to call for national unity and to oppose proposals to move the executive and legislative branches of government from La Paz, the de facto capital, to the southern city of Sucre. Although no government officials spoke at the demonstration, in the evening President Evo Morales called the mobilization "historic"; analysts considered it the country's largest demonstration in recent years. The media nicknamed it the "Pacenazo" (from La Paz), while participants called it a cabildo (a public discussion, like a town hall meeting).

Schools, banks and government offices were closed in La Paz and El Alto, which is a massive, largely working-class suburb of La Paz. Tens of thousands of people came to El Alto by bus and car from around La Paz department, and tens of thousands walked up the highway from the city of La Paz. The demonstration stretched for several kilometers on El Alto's broad avenues.

The unexpectedly huge protest came in response to proposals that delegates from Chuquisaca Department, where Sucre is located, made to the Constituent Assembly, which is to present the text of a revised Constitution by Aug. 6. Sucre is officially Bolivia's capital, but the executive and the legislature have their headquarters in La Paz as the result of a civil war at the end of the 19th century; only the judicial branch is currently in Sucre.

Speakers at the demonstration suggested that the proposal was a maneuver by groups opposed to Evo Morales' leftist government to create a "confrontation between brothers" and to "delegitimize the Constituent Assembly." San Andres University rector Teresa Recala told the crowd that the energy of the Bolivian people should not be wasted on superficial issues such as the location of the capital but should focus on strategic policies like the fight against poverty. The participants approved the Cabildo Declaration, according to which the Constituent Assembly should not address the issue of the capital. The protesters said they would call an open-ended strike in La Paz and a sit-in at the Constituent Assembly if the proposal wasn't dropped by Aug. 6. (Prensa Latina, July 20; La Jornada, Mexico, July 20)

On July 16 Morales announced that his government would nationalize the National Railroad Company (ENFE), which was largely privatized in 1996 by then-president Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada, now in exile in the US. The powerful Chilean company Grupo Luksic bought 50% of ENFE; the government retained the other half but allowed it to be managed by two private pension administration funds. Morales didn't give details on how and when the nationalization would take place. Even the main opposition force, Podemos ("We Can"), backed the decision to nationalize the company; but the group demanded a transparent process, "not like Morales' false nationalizations"—a reference to the controversial nationalization of two refineries belonging to Brazil's Petroleo Brasileiro (Petrobras). (LJ, July 17 from AFP)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas

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